After we flew across the country we got into bed, laid our bodies delicately together, like maps laid face to face, East to West, my San Francisco against your New York, your Fire Island against my Sonoma, my New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas burning against your Kansas your Kansas burning against my Kansas, your Eastern Standard Time pressing into my Pacific Time, my Mountain Time beating against your Central Time, your sun rising swiftly from the right my sun rising swiftly from the left your moon rising slowly from the left my moon rising slowly from the right until all four bodies of the sky burn above us, sealing us together, all our cities twin cities, all our states united, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
And what if God had been watching when my mother came into my bed? What would he have done when her long adult body rolled on me like a tongue of lava from the top of the mountain and the tears jumped from her ducts like hot rocks and my bed shook with the tremors of the magma and the deep cracking of my nature across- what was He? Was He a bison to lower his thundercloud head and suck His own sex while He watched us weep and pray to Him or was He a squirrel, reaching down through the hole she broke in my shell, squirrel with His arm in the yoke of my soul up to the elbow, stirring, stirring the gold? Or was He a kid in Biology, dissecting me while she held my split carapace apart so He could firk out my oblong eggs one by one, was He a man entering me up to the hilt while she pried my thighs wide in the starry dark- she said that all we did was done in His sight so what was He doing as He saw her weep in my hair and slip my soul from between my ribs like a tiny hotel soup, did He wash His hands of me as I washed my hands of Him? Is there a God in the house? Is there a God in the house? Then reach down and take that woman off that child's body, take that woman by the nape of the neck like a young cat and lift her up and deliver her over to me.
I wonder now only when it will happen, when the young mother will hear the noise like somebody's pressure cooker down the block, going off. She'll go out on the yard, holding her small daughter in her arms, and there, above the end of the street, in the air above the line of the tress, she will see it rising, lifting up over the horizon, the upper rim of the gold ball, large as a giant planet starting to lift up over ours. She will stand there in the yard holding her daughter, looking at it rise and grow and blossom and rise, and the child will open her arms to it, it will look so beautiful.
They drive him along the road in the steady conscious way they drove their cattle when they had cattle, when they had homes and living children. They drive him with pliant peeled sticks, snapped from trees whose bark cannot be eaten-snapped, not cut, no one has a knife, and the trees that can be eaten have been eaten leaf and trunk and the long roots pulled from the ground and eaten. They drive him and beat him, a loose circle of thin men with sapling sticks, driving him along slowly, slowly beating him to death. He turns to them with all the eloquence of the body, the wrist turned out and the vein up his forearm running like a root just under the surface, the wounds on his head ripe and wet as a rich furrow cut back and cut back at plough-time to farrow a trench for the seed, his eye pleading, the iris black and gleaming as his skin, the white a dark occluded white like cloud-cover on the morning of a day of heavy rain. His lips are open to his brothers as the body of a woman might be open, as the earth itself was split and folded back and wet and seedy to them once, the lines on his lips fine as the thousand tributaries of a root-hair, a river, he is asking them for life with his whole body, and they are driving his body all the way down the road because they know the life he is asking for- it is their life.
The boy and I faced each other. His feet are huge, in black sneakers laced with white in a complex pattern like a set of international scars. We are stuck on opposite sides of the car, a couple of molecules stuck in a rod of light rapidly moving through darkness. He has the casual cold look of a mugger, alert under hooded lids. He is wearing red, like the inside of the body exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the whole skin of an animal taken and used. I look at his raw face, he looks at my fur coat, and I don't know if I am in his power- he could take my coat so easily, my briefcase, my life- or if he is in my power, the way I am living off his life, eating the steak he does not eat, as if I am taking the food from his mouth. And he is black and I am white, and without meaning or trying to I must profit from his darkness, the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the nation's heart, as black cotton absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is no way to know how easy this white skin makes my life, this life he could take so easily and break across his knee like a stick the way his own back is being broken, the rod of his soul that at birth was dark and fluid and rich as the heart of a seedling ready to thrust up into any available light.
Sitting in the car at the end of summer, my feet on the dashboard, the children in the back laughing, my calf gleaming like a crescent moon, I notice the hairs are sparser on my legs, thinning our as I approach middle age- not like some youth whose vigorous hairs pulse out of his skin with power while he is taking a man's genitals off as slowly as possible, carefully, so as not to let him get away, to get all he knows out of him first- names, locations, human maps of human cities, in our common tongue and written with our usual alphabet so he can rule those maps, change the names of the streets and line the people along them to turn the small cells of their faces up to him, the sun on him like gilding. This is what I cannot understand, the innocence of his own body, its goodness and health, the hairs like sweet molasses pouring from the follicles of his forearm and cooling in great looping curls above the sex of the man he is undoing as he himself was made.
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, I see my father strolling out under the ochre sandstone arch, the red tiles glinting like bent plates of blood behind his head, I see my mother with a few light books at her hip standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its sword-tips black in the May air, they are about to graduate, they are about to get married, they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are innocent, they would never hurt anybody. I want to go up to them and say Stop, don't do it-she's the wrong woman, he's the wrong man, you are going to do things you cannot imagine you would ever do, you are going to do bad things to children, you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of, you are going to want to die. I want to go up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it, her hungry pretty blank face turning to me, her pitiful beautiful untouched body, his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me, his pitiful beautiful untouched body, but I don't do it. I want to live. I take them up like the male and female paper dolls and bang them together at the hips like chips of flint as if to strike sparks from them, I say Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.
When I saw my blood on your leg, the drop so dark and clear, that real arterial red, could not even think about death, you stood there smiling at me, you squatted in the tub on your long haunches and washed it away. The large hard bud of your glans in my mouth, the dark petals of my sex in your mouth, I could feel death going farther and farther away, forgetting me, losing my address, his palm forgetting the curve of my cheek in his hand. Then we lay in the small glow of the lamp and I saw your lower lip glazed with light like liquid fire I looked at you and I tell you I knew you were God and I was God and we lay in our bed on the dark cloud, and somewhere all we did, the blood, the pink stippling of the head, the pearl fluid out of the slit, the goodness of all we did would somehow get down there, it would find its flowering in the world.
Outside the operating room of the sex-change doctor, a tray of penises. There is no blood. This is not Vietnam, Chile, Buchenwald. They were surgical removed under anesthetic. They lie there neatly, each with a small space around it. The anesthetic is wearing off now. The chopped-off sexes lie on the silver tray. One says I am a weapon thrown down. Let there be no more killing. Another says I am a thumb lost in the threshing machine. Bright straw fills the air. I will never have to work again. The third says I am a caul removed from his eyes. Now he can see. The fourth says I want to painted by Gericault, a still life with a bust of Apollo, a drape of purple velvet, and a vine of ivy leaves. The fifth says I was a dirty little dog, I knew he'd have me put to sleep. The sixth says I am safe. Now no one can hurt me. Only one is unhappy. He lies there weeping in terrible grief, crying out Father, Father!
By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it, he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building and over the soft, tarry surface to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice and said if they came a step closer that was it. Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life, the cops came in their suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening, and one put on a bullet-proof vest, a black shell around his own life, life of his children's father, in case the man was armed, and one, slung with a rope like the sign of his bounden duty, came up out of a hole in the top of the neighboring building like the gold hole they say is in the top of the head, and began to lurk toward the man who wanted to die. The tallest cop approached him directly, softly, slowly, talking to him, talking, talking, while the man's leg hung over the lip of the next world and the crowd gathered in the street, silent, and the hairy net with its implacable grid was unfolded near the curb and spread out and stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive at a birth. Then they all came a little closer where he squatted nest to his death, his shirt glowing its milky glow like something growing in a dish at night in the dark in a lab and then everything stopped as his body jerked and he stepped down from the parapet and went toward them and they closed on him, I thought they were going to beat him up, as a mother whose child has been lost will scream at the child when it's found, they took him by the arms and held him up and leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the tall cop lit a cigarette in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and then they all lit cigarettes, and the red, glowing ends burned like the tiny campfires we lit at night back at the beginning of the world.
When they found you, you were not breathing. It was ten degrees below freezing, and you were wrapped only in plastic. They lifted you up out of the litter basket, as one lifts a baby out of the crib after nap and they unswaddled you from the Sloan's shopping bag. As far sa you were concerned it was all over, you were feeling nothing, everything had stopped some time ago, and they bent over you and forced the short knife-blade of breath back down into your chest, over and over, until you began to feel the pain of life again. They took you from silence and darkness right back through birth, the gasping, the bright lights, they achieved their miracle: on the second day of the new year they brought you back to being a boy whose parents left him in a garbage can, and everyone in the Emergency Room wept to see your very small body moving again. I saw you on the news, the discs of the electrocardiogram blazing like medals on your body, your hair thick and ruffed as the head of a weed, your large intelligent forehead dully glowing in the hospital TV light, your mouth pushed out as if you are angry, and something on your upper lip, a dried glaze from your nose, and I thought how you are the most American baby, child of all of us through your very American parents, and through the two young medics, Lee Merklin and Frank Jennings, who brought you around and gave you their names, forced you to resume the hard American task you had laid down so young, and though I see the broken glass on your path, the shit, the statistics-you will be a man who wraps his child in plastic and leaves it in the trash-I see the light too as you saw it forced a second time in silver ice between your lids, I am full of joy to see your new face among us, Lee Frank Merklin Jennings I am standing here in dumb American praise for your life.
They chased her and her friend through the woods and caught them in a small clearing, broken random bracken, a couple of old mattresses, the dry ochre of foam rubber, as if the place had been prepared. The thin one with black hair started raping her best friend, and the blond one stood above her, thrust his thumbs back inside her jaws, she was 12, stuch his penis in her mouth and throat faster and faster and faster. Then the black-haired one stood up-- they lay like pulled-up roots at his feet, two naked 12-year-old girls, he said Now you're going to know what it's like to be shot 5 times and slaughtered like a pig, and they switched mattresses, the blond was rapping and stabbing her best friend, and the black-haired one sticking inside her in one place and then another, the point of his gun pressed deep into her waist, she felt a little click in her spine and a sting like 7-Up in her head and then he pulled the tree-branch across her throat and everything went dark, the gym went dark, and her mother's kitchen, even the globes of light on the rounded lips of her mother's nesting bowls went dark. When she woke up she was lying on the cold iron-smelling earth, she was under the mattress, pulled up over her like a blanket at night, she saw the body of her best friend and she began to run, she came to the edge of the woods and she stepped out from the trees, like a wound debriding, she walked across the fields to the tracks and said to the railway brakeman Please, sir. Please, sir. At the trial she had to say everything- her big sister taught her the words- she had to sit in the room with them and point to them. Now she goes to parties but does not smoke, she is a cheerleader, she throws her body up in air and kicks her legs and comes home an does the dishes and her homework, she has to work hard in math, the night over the roof of her bed filled with white planets. Every night she prays for the soul of her best friend and then thanks God for life. She knows what all of us want never to know and she does a cartwheel, the splits, she shakes the shredded pom-poms in her fists.
Mama, I never stop seeing you there at the breakfast table when I'd come home from school- sitting with your excellent skeletal posture facing that plate with the one scoop of cottage cheese on it, forcing yourself to eat, though you did not want to live, feeding yourself, small spoonful by small spoonful, so you would not die and leave us without a mother. You'd sit in front of that mound rounded as a breast and giving off a cold moony light, light of the life you did not want, you would hold yourself there and stare down at it, an orphan forty years old staring at the breast, a freshly divorced woman down to 82 pounds staring at the cock runny with milk gone sour, a daughter who had always said the best thing her mother ever did for her was to die. I came home every day to find you there, dry-eyed, unbent, that hot control in the breakfast nook, your delicate savage bones over the cheese curdled like the breast of the mother twenty years in the porous earth, and yet what I remember is your spoon moving like the cock moving in the body of the girl waking to the power of her pleasure, your spoon rising in courage, bite after bite, you tilted rigid over that plate until you polished it for my life.
It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate clapper at the center of a bell. It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a halo of silver seaweed, the hair swaying in the dark and the heat-and at night, while his eyes sleep, it stands up in praise of God.
Finally they got the Singles problem under control, they made it scientific. They opened huge Sex Centers-you could simply go and state what you want and they would find you someone who wanted that too. You would stand under a sign saying I Like to Be Touched and Held and when someone came and stood under the sign saying I Like to Touch and Hold they would send the two of you off together. At first it went great. A steady stream of people under the sign I Like to Give Pain paired up with a steady stream of people from under I Like to Receive Pain. Foreplay Only-No Orgasm found its adherents, and Orgasm Only-No Foreplay matched up its believers. A loyal Berkeley, California, policeman stood under the sign Married Adults, Lights Out, Face to Face, Under a Sheet, because that's the only way it was legal in Berkeley-but he stood there a long time in his lonely blue law coat. And the man under I Like to Be Sung to White Bread Is Kneaded on My Stomach had been there weeks without a reply. Things began to get strange. The Love Only-No Sex was doing fine; the Sex Only-No Love was doing well, pair after pair walking out together like wooden animals off a child's ark, but the line for 38D or Bigger was getting unruly, shouting insults at the line for 8 Inches or Longer, and odd isolated signs were springing up everywhere, Retired Schoolteacher and Parakeet-No Leather; One Rm/No Bath/View of Sausage Factory. The din rose in the vast room. The line under I Want to Be Fucked Senseless was so long that portable toilets had to be added and a minister brought for deaths, births, and marriages on the line. Over under I Want to Fuck Senseless-no one, a pile of guns. A hollow roaring filled the enormous gym. More and more people began to move over to Want to Be Fucked Senseless. The line snaked around the gym, the stadium, the whole town, out into the fields. More and more people joined it, until Fucked Senseless stretched across the nation in a huge wide belt like the Milky Way, and since they had to name it they named it, they called it the American Way.